Ian’s Bird of the Week – Flock Bronzewing

Flock Bronzewing (Phaps histrionica) by Ian 1

Flock Bronzewing (Phaps histrionica) by Ian 1

Ian’s Bird of the Week – Flock Bronzewing ~ by Ian Montgomery

Newsletter – 6/30/13

This photo of a Flock Bronzewing featured as bird of the week in June 2006. This male was one of several flocks that we saw flying across the Flinders Highway near Julia Creek late one afternoon as we were heading west towards Mount Isa and the birds, presumably, were doing their evening ritual of visiting waterholes. He obligingly decided that a pool near the road was good enough for him and landed quite close to us. This was my first, and until recently only, encounter with this enigmatic, rarely seen, nomadic pigeon of central Australia.

In 2008, this photo was published in the book 100 Birds to See Before You Die by Chandler and Couzens,, where the Flock Bronzewing featured as No 50 in the global list (No. 1 was the Ivory-billed Woodpecker). The book was one of many of this kind written after the success of the 2007 movie The Bucket List (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vc3mkG21ob4), the title referring to the list of things one wants to do before one ‘kicks the bucket’.

Flock Bronzewing (Phaps histrionica) by Ian 2

Flock Bronzewing (Phaps histrionica) by Ian 2

On the recent trip along the Birdsville Track, I was approaching Bedourie, the last town before Birdsville driving south from Mount Isa via Boulia, when I saw a small flock of brown birds flying swiftly near the airstrip. Their size, colour and habitat made me think, incorrectly, Australian Pratincole. A little while later, I stopped to watch two much larger flocks merge into one of about 300 individuals and start flying around the two dams near Bedourie ‘Outback’ Golf Course when I realised that the were Flock Bronzewings.

I gather that an outback golf course has natural sand bunkers – Bedourie is on the edge of the Simpson Desert – and, instead of greens, oil scrapes which make ‘a great putting surface’.The dams incidentally are called Lakes Larry and Simpson ‘after their creator’, so presumably are, unlike the bunkers, not natural.

Flock Bronzewing (Phaps histrionica) by Ian 3

Flock Bronzewing (Phaps histrionica) by Ian 3

The flock, containing flew close enough to me get a reasonable shot in the evening sunlight: photos 3 and 4 are details from the same photo. Photo number 3 has two adult males with their characteristic black and white faces, while the third bird is a female or juvenile. The field guides indicate that the facial pattern of the has varying amount of black, and the juveniles are yet paler and photo number 4 shows 3 males and two other birds, one of which has only very faint markings. The scientific name histrionica refers to the harlequin pattern on the head, though histrionicus is the Latin for ‘theatrical’. (The Harlequin Duck of North America is Histrionicus histrionicus.)

Flock Bronzewing (Phaps histrionica) by Ian 4

Flock Bronzewing (Phaps histrionica) by Ian 4

Flock Bronzewings feed in the vast and sparse grasslands of the arid interior and have a history of being seen in huge numbers with 100,000 being recorded in 1931 at one waterhole and 50,000 in one flock in 1972. More recently, such large flock have not been recorded and this gave rise to concerns that the species was in steep decline. If that was the case, this decline seems to have ended, though it has been suggested that the lack of very large flocks is due to the provision of more sources of water on grazing properties. Either way, it is the case that the Flock Bronzewing is an all or nothing bird: you either see many (very rarely), or none (usually).

Does one do things on a bucket list twice or is that considered excessive? I don’t know, but I’m going to use it as an excuse for making it bird of the week a second time.

Best wishes
Ian

**************************************************
Ian Montgomery, Birdway Pty Ltd,
454 Forestry Road, Bluewater, Qld 4818
Tel 0411 602 737 ian@birdway.com.au
Bird Photos http://www.birdway.com.au/
Recorder Society http://www.nqrs.org.au


Lee’s Addition:

Also, to every beast of the earth, to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, in which there is life, I have given every green herb for food”; and it was so. (Genesis 1:30 NKJV)

What an interesting Pigeon. Their heads are so fascinating. Plus, they do favor the Harlequin Duck’s coloration and markings. If I had a “bucket list” and there was some bird I really enjoyed seeing, I wouldn’t have any problems revisiting that bird again.

Harlequin Duck (Histrionicus histrionicus) ©WikiC

Harlequin Duck (Histrionicus histrionicus) ©WikiC

The Flock Bronzewing (Phaps histrionica), also known as the Flock Pigeon, Harlequin Bronzewing and the Harlequin Pigeon is a species of pigeon in the Columbidae family. It is endemic to drier parts of Australia. The Flock Bronzewing is the most nomadic of the Australian pigeons, and it is difficult to mistake for other Australian species. Fully-grown Flock Bronzewings can range in length from 280–305 mm with a wingspan of 189 – 216 mm. Its weight can range from 260 – 320 grams.

More than any other Australian species of pigeon, the Flock Bronzewing is adapted to the arid plains of the continent. The preferred habitat is open grassland plains, clumped grasses and small shrubs with open spaces. A major area for this type of habitat where the Flock Bronzewings are present is within the grass plains of the Barkly Tablelands.

The main source of food is the seeds of grasses, herbs and shrubs, whilst occasionally browsing on green shoots. With the introduction of cattle into the interior of Australia, the Flock Bronzewing has adapted to eating the undigested seeds from cattle dung. Some species of seed eaten include the Desert Spurge, Camel Bush, Yellow Daisy and River Grass.

The breeding season is variable and relies heavily on the availability of food. In the south of its range, they tend to breed from spring to early summer and in the north, breeding occurs from early to the middle of the dry season. The nest is a scrape in the ground, which is lined with grass and twigs, usually between the shelter of clumps of grass or shrubs. Two white eggs are incubated for 16 days, with the young capable of leaving the nest after a week. (Wikipedia with editing)

See:

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Ian’s Bird of the Week – Brush and Common Bronzewings

Brush Bronzewing by Birdway

Brush Bronzewing by Birdway

I’ve just revised the Dove and Pigeon galleries on the website () and it set me thinking how many gorgeous members of this family occur in Australia. Some, like the Fruit-Doves, are spectacularly so, while others are more subtle. The subtler ones included the Bronzewings and their allies such as the Crested and Spinifex Pigeons, a group of several genera endemic to Australia and New Guinea.

Common Bronzewing by Ian

Common Bronzewing by Ian

The Bronzewings get their name from iridescent feathers in their wing coverts. These are shown in display and at other times are not conspicuous unless the light is at the right angle, rather like the iridescent feathers of hummingbirds. The first photo shows a Brush Bronzewing which has two rows of iridescent feathers, one reddish and the other bluish green. The second photo shows a Common Bronzewing at sunset and it has several rows of bronze-green feathers and one dark blue row. This bird is a female; male Common Bronzewings have even brighter feathers.

The Brush Bronzewing occurs in scrub and forest in coastal southern Australia from Fraser Island in Queensland to Dongara in Western Australia, including Tasmania. The Common Bronzewing is widespread throughout Australia except in the driest areas such as eastern Western Australia. The Common Bronzewing in particular is wary and takes flight readily, so often the best way to observe it is at water holes. This one was photographed last Sunday while we were sitting quietly near a dam; at least 50 Common Bronzewings came in to drink and this one perched nervously on a post quite close to us before proceeding down to the water.

Best wishes, Ian

See Ian’s Bird of the Week for more of these articles.
See Ian’s Birdway Website


Lee’s additions:

Ian’s remark about the “Common Bronzewing in particular is wary and takes flight readily” caught my eye. Also Wikipedia says, “They tend to browse quietly until disturbed, then remain still, their earthy browns blending into the earth and leaf litter until the intruder approaches too closely, at which point the bronzewing takes off with an explosive burst of sudden wing clapping and feather noise, and disappears from sight within moments.” Both remarks reminded me of scripture.

They will walk after the LORD, He will roar like a lion; Indeed He will roar And His sons will come trembling from the west. They will come trembling like birds from Egypt And like doves from the land of Assyria; And I will settle them in their houses, declares the LORD. (Hosea 11:10-11 NASB)

Why do the birds tremble and seem wary of people. The reason is that God put in them the fear of man after the global flood in Noah’s day.

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. Romans 1:20

The fact that they blend in to their surroundings is part of the Lord’s creative love for the birds. He provides for their protection.

Flock Bronzewing by Ian

Flock Bronzewing by Ian

Here is some more information about the “Bronzewing Pigeon” according to Wikipedia:
The dividing line between the bronzewings and the rock pigeons is arbitrary: essentially, rock pigeons are bronzewings without bronze on their wings. Members of the group include:

* The Common Bronzewing (Phaps calcoptera) is a large, bulky pigeon with a small head, found in all parts of Australia bar some of the deep desert, Cape York Peninsula, and urban areas. Its advertising call is an extraordinary mournful whooo repeated at metronomic intervals for an interminable length of time. Although rather wary by nature, birds in the urban fringes become quite used to humans.

* The Brush Bronzewing (Phaps elegans) is uncommon, probably threatened. Marginally smaller than the Common Bronzewing and rather secretive—except for its call, which is slightly faster and higher-pitched but maintained through the hottest days with equally monotonous determination. Brush Bronzewings nest low down, often on the ground, and are very vulnerable to feral cats and foxes.

Crested Pigeon by Ian

Crested Pigeon by Ian

* Flock Bronzewings (Phaps histrionica) roam the grasslands of the northern half of the continent. Once found in enormous flocks, they are still to be seen in their thousands. Pizzey’s description of their habits is memorable: “When locally abundant, at end of day, undulating, shearwater-like flocks fly to water, settle short distance away, and walk in. Thirsty latecomers may drop directly into water and drink while spreadeagled, before springing off.”

* Crested Pigeons (Ocyphaps lophotes) are distinctive, common, and widespread. Usually seen in small flocks in open woodlands or grasslands, it is always close to water. With the clearing of much forest and the provision of water in arid regions for cattle, Crested Pigeons have increased in number.

Spinifex Pigeon

Spinifex Pigeon

* The Spinifex Pigeon (Geophaps plumifera) is an unmistakable ground-dwelling small pigeon, reddish-bronze in colour and prominently crested, with a unique upright, military stance. When dirturbed it prefers to run erratically, breaking into rapid, noisy flight only if pressed. A desert specialist, it is found in the arid and semi-arid zones of the northern half of the continent.
* The Partridge Pigeon (Geophaps smithii) is a dull brown bird about 26 cm long found only in pairs or small flocks in the grasslands of northern Northern Territory and northern Western Australia.

* The Squatter Pigeon (Geophaps scripta), like the very similar Partridge Pidgeon, spends feeds, roosts, and nests on the ground, and prefers infertile sandy soils and gravel where the grass grows only thinly, allowing easy movement. Squatter Pigeons are restricted to the eastern half of Queensland and north-eastern New South Wales.

Some interesting articles about iridescent colors on birds and butterflies:

From Blue-t-ful Beetles, Birds, `n Butterflies, this quote:
“The strikingly iridescent blue seen in some butterfly, beetle, and bird feathers is well-known and enjoyed by scientists and laymen alike. This is due to creatures (and some plants) reflecting or absorbing certain frequencies of light due to the external chemical composition of their body. In past decades, it has been realized that although the color of these structures is clearly and unusually blue—no blue pigment can be found!
The South American butterfly, Morpho rhetenor, has wings composed of extremely tiny scales like all members of the Lepidoptera. Biologists magnified scales of the upper wing surface 20,000 times and saw “a regular grid of precisely constructed wedge-shaped ridges spaced at intervals of about 0.00022 mm. This pattern is repeated so accurately that the maximum deviation is only 0.00002 mm. No earthly workshop specializing in miniaturization [nanotechnology], would be able to make one single wing scale with this required precision.“1 Detailed investigation of other butterflies reveals iridescence due to “nanoscale structures that produce ultra-high reflectivity and narrow-band spectral purity.”

From God’s Rainbow in Living Color by Catherine Myers:
Unique Colors
Butterflies’ wings are covered with tiny scales that create their colors and patterns. Under a microscope, the tiny scales resemble roofing tiles that overlap in different patterns.
Wing colors originate from two sourcespigmentation (color in the scale itself) or iridescence (light from the sun that changes color as it bends within the scales). Earth tones (brown, orange, yellow, white, and black) come from pigments. Iridescent colors (blue, green, copper, silver, and gold) arise from special scales that bend light into different colors. Because the scales act like a prism and separate light into different wavelengths, some butterflies actually appear to change color during flight.

See:
Ian’s Bird of the Week for more of these articles.
Ian’s Birdway Website